Refinancing: Initial here

At this point in life I should know the legal significance, and desirability, of initialing a document versus signing it. Like this morning, we did the closing on a refinance of the house. Signed a huge stack of papers. But sometimes just initialed them. Question: Why not make everything an initialed document rather than a fully signed one? Are initials a form of a signature with all the legal rights, privileges, encumbrances and liabilities of a full signature, or are they a bit squishier than that, an implied sort-of signature, with a way out, an avenue of legal retreat, as in: “I didn’t sign that. I just initialed that”?

And do my initials, as I jot them on the page, carry the same level of identifying characteristics, in a forensic sense, as my signature? Until this morning I don’t think I’d ever paid attention to my initials, but after putting them down roughly 765 times, in addition to the 2,143 times I signed my name, I now have initials on the brain in a way you wouldn’t believe. Or maybe you would. The thing I’ll say about my initials (as I present them, scratch scratch, on paper) is that they’re much more legible than my signature, which basically looks like Joe&&&&&&&. You could look at my signature and know everything about my desk at work. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but the signature is the window to the workspace.

This was not my first refinancing. No sirree Bob. But it could be the last. It’s a 15-year mortgage, meaning the house should be paid off roughly about the time I start collecting Social Security. As ever there is the question of whether it makes sense to pay off the house even sooner, if possible. But the interest rate is so low, why not take that extra money that might go to the house and invest it in something that’s likely to offer a better return, like the horse track? I can pick horses. And I can play a little blackjack.

What makes me good at blackjack is that I am very good at interpreting my own hunches. Let’s say dealer shows a 6 (and has a card face down still), and I know he’s got to hit at 16 (and we know the down card might very well be equal to 10). And I’ve got 15 showing. Most players, they sit on the 15, and count on the dealer to bust. Not me! I tap that table! Hit me! Because I can usually tell I’m on a roll and the gambling gods are taking a shine to me. I get that feeling in my bones, that I’ll draw a 6 and nail the 21. It’s called luck, my friends. You have to let the luck come to you. You have to be open to the Possibility of the Improbable.

Now then, in case you missed it, here’s my promised story on disasters. I’ll paste in the top:

The apocalypse will be budgeted. That is our trajectory, anyway: The bureaucratization of disaster. That which cannot be stopped will still be crammed, heroically, onto a spreadsheet. We like to tell ourselves that we’re ready for the day when the eschatology hits the fan.

A week after 19 firefighters died in their emergency shelters in Arizona, and just days after a Quebec town was largely destroyed in an explosive train derailment, we’re collectively steeled for the next calamity. Death and destruction are carefully enumerated in the modern world. There were 18,200 weather catastrophes (or “loss events”) worldwide between 1980 and 2012, totaling $2.8 trillion in losses (in 2012 dollars), including $885 billion in insured losses, according to the reinsurance giant Munich Re. These disasters have killed 1,405,000 people. (Stalin, apocryphally: “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.”)

At any given moment you can look at a NASA Web site to see which asteroids have the potential to strike the Earth. There’s one called 2007 VK184, for example, that’s about 425 feet in diameter. It’s a minus-1.57 on the Palermo Scale and a 1 on the Torino Scale. What does that mean? It means that it’s very unlikely to hit us when it swings close in 2048, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

At some level, we’re all doomsday preppers now. We’re part of a paradoxical society that is, in the aggregate, wealthy and powerful, yet feels vulnerable and insecure. The flip side of a cultural sense of entitlement — to life, liberty, happiness and the freedom from accident or misfortune — is the hurt and outrage when something goes terribly wrong.

Our civilization is increasingly like a fine-tuned sports car that is very expensive to fix. It burns too much fuel. It’s dangerous to drive. And when it’s not in the shop, we’re anxious about the slightest dent or scratch.

We have a sense of being constantly on the verge of disaster or in the midst of one. If there’s not a disaster in the news, wait a week. There are disasters that come with warnings, and those that appear from nowhere. Bulletin: On Friday, an engineer parked a train hauling crude oil on a hill above Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and went to a hotel for the night. For some reason, the air brakes failed. The unoccupied train rolled for miles, back into town. When it derailed, the explosion leveled much of the downtown, including a bar packed with late-night partyers, and killed at least 15 people, with dozens more reportedly missing. They never knew what hit them.

Perhaps a modern civilization always feels disaster-prone because we’re all so connected, with live-streaming video from every part of the globe. There are no faraway disasters anymore.

So the question is: How much of this vulnerability is real, and how much is it some kind of mass hysteria?

We’ve got our best committees working on that right now.

[and there’s more]

 

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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Joel Achenbach · July 9, 2013